One potential products liability development to watch in 2009 is the impact of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. As MassTortDefense alerted readers before the legislation was even passed, one of the potentially most significant aspects of the legislation is the provision giving state Attorney Generals expanded jurisdiction to seek to enforce the Act against manufacturers and sellers of consumer products.

Under the Act, state AGs are authorized to bring federal court actions to enforce any regulation or standard of the CPSC which affects their state’s residents. Previously, many such standards and rules were enforced only by the CPSCommission. (An AG must give the CPSC 30 days notice before filing, unless the product poses a “substantial product hazard,” in which case no notice is required.)  The legislation has given a potentially sweeping and relatively undefined authority for state Attorneys General to act on perceived product safety concerns, largely independent of the CPSC.

While this move has potentially increased the resources available for enforcement actions, it has also created the likelihood of different interpretations and applications of product safety rules, as different state officials apply different approaches to enforcement. The Act does not require that an Attorney General pursue the CPSC’s viewpoint or position in regard to a consumer product issue. The provision could thus undermine both the uniformity of product safety standards as applied across the country, and the CPSC’s role in providing centralized regulation and guidance to industry and consumers alike.

The media reports that the National Association of Attorneys General has amassed a war chest of $140 million dollars, available to help individual state Attorneys General investigate alleged wrongdoing and to pay for expert consultants. State AGs have already been very active in product liability contexts, even before the Act, with tobacco, baby products, toys and mattresses being involved in recent memory.